Thursday, February 12, 2015

10 Reasons Why a Liberal/Progressive Zionist Should Support the Joint List in the Israeli Elections

If you are progressive/liberal, a supporter of democratic Israel, and, for good measure, a Zionist, there are two parties you can conscientiously support in the coming election.  (If you are a Zionist and not progressive/liberal, there are many parties to support, ranging from the moderate right (Labour) to the ultra, ultra right and proudly racist (Yachad).

The two parties worthy of your consideration are Meretz and the Joint List. 

Meretz needs no introduction; it is a veteran left wing Zionist party that represents the best of the old Zionist tradition, consistently working to make Israel a liberal democracy within the confines of statist/ethnicist, Zionism. Its leader, Zahava Galon, is a hardworking parliamentarian whose voice deserves to be heard. If you are liberal Jew who finds it hard to leave the Zionist tribe then Meretz is an acceptable alternative for you.

But if you are truly a progressive and care about both Israel and the Palestinians, then  leave the Zionist tribe this election.  Here are ten reasons why.

1. For the first time in history there is one political list that represents the most under-represented sector of Israeli society, Palestinian Israelis, the sector that has consistently been denied political power as permanent members of the opposition. (For those unfamiliar with the Israeli parliamentary system, money flows only to the sectors represented in the governing coalition, and since Arab parties are barred by the “Jewish state” ethos from joining the government, the Arab sector is routinely shafted. No amount of liberal pieties about the importance of closing the gap can change this fundamental truth: the Jewish state foundationally discriminates against its Arab citizens.)

2. If you are a progressive/liberal,  then you should support an Israel that is a nation of all its citizens, Jews and Arabs, Ashkenazi and Mizrahi, religious, haredi, and secular, male and female, etc., etc.  There is only one party that speaks in the name of the Israeli people (ha-Am ha-Yisraeli) and that is the Joint List. Most of the others explicitly claim to represent Am Yisrael, the Jewish People. If you are Sheldon Adelson that won’t be a problem. But if you are progressive, it should.

3. If you are a progressive/liberal, then you should support a party that has deliberately been ignored and dismissed by the media and official Israel  in this election, despite that it is now polling as the third or fourth largest party in the election – only because it is composed mainly of Palestinians Arabs.

4. If you are progressive/liberal and a Zionist,  then you should  be worried at the growing disaffection of Palestinian Israelis, whose participation in the democratic process has plummeted in recent elections.  And the reason is simple: Arabs have the right to vote, but they may as well flush their ballot down the toilet since all the major Zionist political parties refuse to sit in a governing coalition with them. Even Labour recently announced that it  would only sit in a coalition with a Jewish party (not in so many words, of course, but that was the clear implication of its statement “from Meretz” to the right).

5. If you are a progressive/liberal and a Zionist, then you should be alarmed at the racism and bigotry that infects virtually all segments of Israeli society, left, right and center. The Joint List is running on an anti-racism platform, and has reached out to the disadvantaged sectors of Israeli society, primarily, Mizrahim, Ethiopians, and women, those who have suffered from the institutional and personal racism that is so endemic in Israeli society.

6. If you are a progressive/liberal and a Zionist  then it’s time you start thinking outside the box in order to extricate  Israel from the undemocratic mess in which it is mired.  It will be harder (though admittedly possible) to ignore the Palestinian citizens of Israel when they have 15-20 seats in the Knesset. I have argued that for Israel to be a true democracy it needs more Palestinian representation, not less. The answer of many liberal Zionists is to argue for a two state solution in which a Palestinian state that discriminates against its Jewish citizens is created alongside an Israeli state that discriminates against its Arab citizens. Balancing discrimination with discrimination is not the answer. Eliminating discrimination is.

The next four reasons to support the Joint List are directed at Meretz supporters.

7. Isn’t it time you tried something new? I supported Meretz in 1992, when it reached the height of its political power and when it was able to “energize Rabin” (“Yumratz Rabin!” in Yossi Sarid’s immortal phrase) The only Israeli political party I ever actually joined was Meretz. But Meretz is still very identified with  Tel-Aviv, white, ashekenazi, secularists and is no longer a national party in any sense of the term. It still plays the anti-dati/religious card in its elections, and waffles whenever Israel embarks on a military adventure, always attempting to balance a  fundamentally imbalanced situation.  Not always, but too often, its “pep” has replaced its “energy”. (“Pep” as an acronym stands for “progressive except for Palestine”; the Hebrew word meretz means energy.”

8. If you are going to vote for a party that will be in the opposition – and Meretz definitely will be in the opposition, if it gets into the Knesset at all – why vote for a small party in the opposition when you can vote for a large party that has greater power on the committees?

9.  For years, pro-Israel Jewish progressives have said, “If only the Arabs could get their act together, think what political power they may have! Think how Israel would look!”  Well, now is the first – and depending on the response, perhaps the last – time that this is happening. Wouldn’t a Meretz supporter want to support this development, at least for one election?

10.  The Joint List is predominantly Arab, but it is definitely not the Joint Arab list. It is actively seeking Israeli Jewish partnership and I see a time when the list grows larger and incorporates people who once found their home in Meretz and even Meimad.  The Joint List is the best development in Israeli politics in years. It came about after the rightwing parties attempted, through legislation upheld by the Supreme Court, to limit Palestinian representation in the Knesset, even in the opposition. Progressives should show the Israeli public  that these moves will only boomerang.

And finally, the disgusting and so far successful attempt (until, God willing, the court overturns it) to disqualify MK Haneen Zoabi for some of the statements she has made should be enough for any true Jewish liberal not to support any of the parties that did not actively protest that decision, and that includes Labour. (For the record, I also protest the decision to bar Baruch Marzel from running, although there is no comparison between the two at all. In fact, he was the collateral damage of the attempt to silence Zoabi.)

Look this is politics and no choice is perfect. I realize that by casting my vote for the Joint List, I am also  voting a religious fundamentalist political party that makes up one of its components. That’s hardly progressive. And I also am sympathetic to the Palestinian claim that the elections are a sham, that Israel is a democracy only for the Jews, and that even if the Joint List gets 30 seats, they will still sit in the opposition. (In fact, I made that claim once.)

And yet…when some of the polls last week showed  the Joint List either neck-or-neck or outpolling Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party.  I almost leapt with joy – isn’t this the Israeli that progressives would want to see, a liberal, vibrant, inclusive democracy, rather than the reactionary nineteenth century ethnocracy it has become?

Let’s give the Joint List  a chance. We can hope that there will be change.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Shalom Hartman Institute, the Muslim Leadership Initiative, and “Faith Washing”

The Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, in some of whose programs I have participated,  runs one called the Muslim Leadership Initiative.  Here is a description of the program from the Hartman Institute website:

The program invites North American Muslims to explore how Jews understand Judaism, Israel, and Jewish peoplehood. The program also encourages participants to experience how Palestinians, both inside and outside Israel, identify themselves, while exploring the issues of ethics, faith, and practice…MLI seeks to expand participants' critical understanding of the complex religious, political, and socioeconomic issues facing people in Israel and Palestine. This is achieved through a rigorous academic curriculum and exposure to diverse narratives.

The program has been criticized by “organizations, groups, and individuals committed to Palestinian self-determination” for various reasons: the Hartman Institute is considered to be complicit in the Occupation and therefore should be boycotted; the Muslim Leadership Initiative provides a distorted picture of Judaism, at best, (in so far as Judaism is equated to Zionism) and is “faithwashing” hasbara at worst; the Hartman Institute is funded by Islamophobes, etc. (Many of these arguments can be found in links  here and here.)

Jewish Voice for Peace, of which I am a member, has issued the following statement:

Jewish Voice for Peace echoes the concerns of our Muslim partners who reject the efforts of the Shalom Hartman Institute’s Muslim Leadership Initiative to use interfaith relations as an excuse to justify the Israeli occupation.

We underscore that being Jewish and Judaism are not synonymous with Zionism or support for Israeli government policies. These false assumptions limit the scope of Jewish-Muslim relations and distort their nature. They also ignore the voices of countless numbers of Jews who are critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Here’s my take:

1. Supporters of BDS of Israeli academic institutions may legitimately boycott, if they so desire,  the Hartman Institute because as an institution it seems to me to fall within the PACBI guidelines. That is, as far, as I can see, the most cogent argument for pro-Palestinian voices not to participate at the Institute on principle. Like everything else regarding BDS, it’s an individual call.

2. Any rejection of the Muslim Leadership Initiative itself should be based on its curriculum, and since none of the critics refer to the curriculum, but draw inferences based on selective quotations of a website, the identities of some of the programs’ leaders, and references to organizations other than the Hartman Institute, the criticisms are flawed. Knowing some of the people involved in the program, I am sure that they want to have Muslims understand why Israel and the Land of Israel (Palestine) is important for the Jews, according to their own Zionist understanding of Judaism, which is shared by many Jews.

3. The Shalom Hartman Institute is unabashedly Zionist, and its vision of Judaism is unabashedly Zionist, what is called in Israel “centrist”.  It is also opposed to the BDS movement, as is every Israeli institution I know of.  Anybody who participates in its programs can find that much about the Institute very quickly. Muslim scholars who participate in their programs – and there have been many Palestinian Muslim leaders who have – know all this. One can participate in a program without accepting the basic premises of the people offering the program. In fact, one can learn a lot about liberal Zionism and religious Zionism in programs like that. Of course, that’s not  a sufficient reason to participate. I am a progressive, and I have no desire to participate in many programs at the Cato Institute, especially those that may be outreach, even though I may learn a lot about from them.

4. I frankly find offensive statements that tell me what Judaism/Christianity/Islam  is and isn’t.  These are big religions with multiple traditions and reducing them to one-size-fits-all is intellectually lazy and counterproducitve. I find laughable a statement like “we reject outright…the notion that what is happening in Palestine is a ‘religious conflict’.”  For many Jews and Muslims it very much is a religious conflict; that is part of the problem. And many Jews, indeed, most Jews, conflate Zionism and Judaism. I don’t agree with them, just like I don’t agree that radical Islam is all there is to Islam.  But if I were a Muslim, and I were only to talk to anti-Zionist Jews, then I would never be able to understand the pull of Zionism for Jews.   Not understanding the pull of Zionism for Jews has been a serious defect of the pro-Palestinian movement.

5. Finally, the notion that one speaks only with one’s allies strikes me as bizarre.  I happen to be one of the“countless numbers of Jews who are critical of Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”  But if I were a Muslim, and I were trying to understand why Israel has become so central to the majority of Jews who are identifiably Jewish today, I wouldn’t spend most of my time talking to folks like me.

6. Go back to number one.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

How Open Should Hillel Be?

Several years ago, when Richard Joel was the president of Hillel International, the goal of Hillel was formulated as  “maximizing the number of Jews doing things Jewish with other Jews.”  It was the notion of “doing things Jewish” that I liked, because that could be interpreted in many ways, religiously, socially, politically, recreationally, etc.  Of course, playing basketball is not just a Jewish activity, and maybe it’s not a Jewish activity at all. (Tell that to Jewish day schools…) And indeed there are many places for Jewish students to do things on campus that are not Jewish, or not with other Jews.  I teach Jewish Studies, and I don’t “do Jewish” in my classroom, and I may penalize students if they “do Jewish” on their assignments. “That’s for Hillel,” I tell them. I’m not in the Jewish identity business; HIllel is.

“Doing things Jewish with Jews” casts a wide net.  It can include Zionist and anti-Zionist groups  provided that they frame their respective activities within the discourse of “doing Jewish”.  I know many Jews that are deeply offended as Jews by the way Zionism has been implemented in the State of Israel, and needless to say, there have been many historically anti-Zionist Jewish groups. They should be welcome at HIllel not merely as individuals, but as spokespeople for ideologies that criticize and offer alternatives to Zionism and to the State of Israel.  By the same token, ultra-Zionist groups, like the Zionist Freedom Alliance, should also be welcome. I believe that there  should be limits; it is hard to see how a group that preached racial or religious hatred should be welcome, even if legally some of the claims may be protected speech. On the other hand, views offensive to some students should be allowed, provided that there is a willingness to be part of a community, and a common agreement to disagree.  You don’t have to go a presentation by the Zionist Freedom Alliance or Jewish Voice for Peace if you don’t want to. When Meir Kahane came to my college campus, many did not go to hear him; I did.

It is sad, though not surprising, that some want to open Hillel just enough to let their own excluded group in.  “Just let J Street U in,” they say to the gatekeepers, “We are part of the family; it’s those Jews who partner with the Students for Justice in Palestine --  the BDS crowd that should be excluded.”  A recent post by a disappointed Open Hillel-er, herself from J Street U, decries the intolerance of those on the left who ridiculed her desire to invite Elie Wiesel to the Open Hillel, and who only invited rightwing groups for strategic purposes, i.e., to show how open they are.  Open Hillel is presented as a ruse to provide legitimacy for views that she considers illegitimate. But this is confusing the ideology of some members of Open Hillel with what Open Hillel wants the ideology of Hillel to be. Open Hillel is overwhelmingly a left wing enterprise, ranging from liberal Zionist to non-Zionist and anti-Zionist. I never heard that it pretends to be representative of all voices, certainly not the voices of Closed Hillel.  Rather, it wants HIllel to give the excluded groups  a place at the table with the included groups.

How does one explain that the same author who called on Hillel to open its doors to BDS and anti-Zionist groups a few weeks ago now wishes to exclude them? I suppose she doesn’t like the fact that some of these groups find more in common with  Students for Justice in Palestine then with J Street U.  SJP is not about dialogue with liberal Zionists; it is about joint struggle with anybody who will support Palestinian rights. In some places it will not “dialogue” with liberal Zionist groups like J Street U or partner with them to bring liberal Zionist critics of the government to campus.

Hillel has no obligation to host an event sponsored by Students for Justice in Palestine, even if its president is Jewish. That’s because SJP’s mission is not a Jewish one, though obviously many of its aims can coincide with the aims of Jewish students doing things Jewish.  Dialogue between Jews is a value, but it’s not the only way to do things Jewish.  Once the motive is a Jewish one – and human rights or moral protest can be framed as a Jewish value --  then the organization acting on that motive has a place at HIllel.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Academic Freedom in the Service of Liberal Zionism

Most academics share a loyalty to the cherished ideals of their profession, including the ideals of  academic freedom and opposition to academic boycotts. Such a loyalty need not be absolute; reasonable people can disagree whether boycotting academic institutions is ever justifiable, and some academic organizations will allow their members to make an individual decision on this point. But even if not an absolute value, opposition to academic boycotts is, or should be, the default value for academics. Or so I believe.

So when I heard that there was a group of American university professors that oppose  academic boycotts of Israel,  and that serves as the Academic Advisory Council to an organization called  “The Third Narrative”,  which calls itself  “pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian,” I was curious. I wondered whether its position on academic boycotts would be based on an adherence to the ideal of academic freedom.  Such a group would attract not only ideologically liberal Zionists,  but scholars of Middle Eastern studies, Arab and Israeli academics in this country, and others for whom academic freedom is sacrosanct. In principle, it could attract non-Jewish conservative and progressive supporters of Palestinian liberation. Such an organization could be a serious voice in the debate on campus over academic boycotts and the silencing or chilling of speech. And it could find at least some willing ears. The Middle East Studies Association (MESA) is not exactly overly populated with liberal Zionists, and yet it has not backed an academic boycott of Israel. Noam Chomsky is not a liberal Zionist, and yet he opposes the academic boycott of Israel and he thinks a two-state solution is the only realistic alternative to the status quo, much to the chagrin of many supporters of Palestinian rights. You don’t have to be pro-Israel to be an opponent of academic boycotts. There is room for a bipartisan, or nonpartisan, organization.

So I was saddened, but not surprised, to find that very few of the Academic Advisory Council  come from Middle East studies, or from progressive supporters of academic freedom tout court. The board opposes  academic boycott of Israel because it feels, somewhat oddly, that boycotting Israeli academic institutions is  counterproductive to its particular liberal Zionist vision of a two-state solution, and because it feels that academic boycotts unjustly single out Israel.  Or to put it crudely: as bad as Israel’s policies may be, those policies aren’t so bad as to warrant an academic boycott.  The fact that the boycott could actually help convince Israel that there is a price for the occupation is irrelevant to these liberal Zionists. 

Of course, there is nothing wrong with this.  The “Third Narrative,” it turns out, is sponsored by Ameinu, which is a liberal Zionist organization, and Tony Lerman notwithstanding, liberal Zionism is far from dead (although, judging from the average age of the members of the Advisory Counicl, it seems to be getting pretty old.)  I know a lot of people on the Advisory Council, and some are friends. But make no mistake -- the “Third Narrative” is positioned  between the Jewish Zionist narrative on the right, and the Jewish anti- or non-Zionist narrative on the left,  It is a Third Narrative within the tribe,  and its proponents take part in a  debate among family on behalf, primarily, of the family,  just as they have done for the last sixty years.

The only game in town that brings together progressive Jewish voices in coalition with progressive Palestinian voices is Jewish Voice of Peace, whose mission statement speaks of “security and self-determination for Israelis and Palestinians.” Like MESA, which is an academic and not an advocacy organization, it doesn’t take a position as an organization on academic boycott, although, unlike MESA,  it does express solidarity with the global BDS movement.  This organization includes Jews, Christians, Muslims, and None of the Above; it supports a just solution for Palestinians and Israelis, but it recognizes the fundamental disparity of effective agency between the two groups.

To my colleagues in academia who care about a just solution that provides equal measures of self-determinism and security to Palestinians and Israelis, but do not wish to jump on the BDS bandwagon,  may I suggest that they sit this one out and watch to see whether  the Academic Advisory Board of the Third Narrative will be yet another group in the already crowded field of Israel advocacy on campus, a well-intentioned liberal counterpart of the Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.  It will be as powerless to advance its liberal Zionist agenda as organizations like J-Street or Meretz USA or Ameinu, whose handwringing has brought 0 results.  At best, it may provide some protection for pro-BDS academics who are harassed by the non-academic Israel advocacy organizations, though I doubt it will be necessary in this regard.

And the Academic Advisory Council seems committed, because of its stance, to oppose an academic boycott of Ariel University, or any of its scholars, despite the fact that the university is built on Palestinian land in the West Bank. Theodore Bikel has expressed sympathy for an artistic boycott of Ariel, and some of the members of the Academic Advisory board agree. Apparently, artistic freedom is not as precious in their eyes as academic freedom.

Speaking of freedom, the freedom not to join organizations or to sign petitions is also rightly prized by academics. Again, I hope my friends who are on this group will watch very carefully how much energy it devotes to defeating Palestinians initiatives on campus that – at best – give Israel a very symbolic slap on the wrist.  When the academic boycott movement in England started up in the early 2000s, many Jewish progressives academics vocally opposed it. Many still do, but their voices are muted.  I expect that this will happen in due course with those who have joined the Academic Advisory Board of the Third Narrative – the ones who are true liberals.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

On Offensive Speech and Ethnic Sensitivities -- Part Two

When I was growing up in the late fifties and  early sixties, my best friend’s mother was an outspoken Jewish liberal who embraced every progressive cause. She would drag my friend and me to civil rights protests and talk about the issues of the day with great liberal passion.

Once I told her that my older brother was  considering buying a Volkswagen, and she replied,  “I simply cannot buy anything from Germany, certainly not a Volkswagen.”  I pointed out to her that Volkswagen cars were sold in Israel, that Germany had paid reparations to Israel, and that many Germans had volunteered to work in Israeli kibbutzim. But she wouldn’t budge; she could not bring herself to buy anything German, even though this was twenty years after World War II, and it was a different generation.

Her position bothered me at the time, since I had been taught that we shouldn’t blame the children for the sins of the parents. Her personal boycott of Germany and Germany goods didn’t jibe with her liberalism. I never talked to her about it; had I done so, she probably would have  conceded that she was acting from her gut.  But she was my best friend’s mother, a close family friend whom I loved dearly, and so I just kept quiet. Even today I will excuse a holocaust survivor who feels that way.  Still, not buying from the Germans today simply because they are German strikes me as bigoted, and while I may excuse somebody who acts in a bigoted manner because of some extenuating circumstance, I have to understand that it is the only extenuating circumstance, and perhaps the principle of charity, that excuse that person. The bigotry itself is worthy of moral condemnation, though in the greater scheme of things there are worse sins than not buying products from a certain country because of a historical grievance.

Which brings me back to Prof. Salaita’s tweets. Though I was offended by them less than others, I did find some of them coarse, unenhanced, and demeaning for a university professor. I particularly didn’t like the one that wished that all the settlers would disappear like the three kidnapped Israelis had disappeared.  Don’t misunderstand me. I consider the settlement movement a moral abomination;   through the systematic theft of land it not only destroys the lives of particular people, it destroys the life and aspirations of a people. The settlement movement is not merely an “obstacle to peace”; it is a crime against humanity  and to the extent that I am an Israeli citizen, and pay taxes, I am complicit in that crime.

But at the same time, settlers are human beings and cannot be just wished dead. So like Prof. Klug who will not march in the company of somebody carrying a sign equating a Jewish Star with Nazism, so too I will not retweet those tweets that I find offensive, not just to Jews, but to any decent being.

That said -- and said loudly – let us not forget that in the greater scheme of things the crudeness of a few tweets pales behind the enormity of the crime of Israel against the Palestinian people, a crime that ebbs and flows from the banal evil of the day-to-day occupation to the demonic evil of its periodic outbursts where Israel feels it has  to “establish deterrence” by collectively pushing the Palestinian  people into the mud.  (I am sure that I have just offended many of my coreligionists. I have tenure, but I do not plan to tweet that remark, and I ask you you not to retweet it.)

And when a member of the group who has suffered, and continues to suffer, says something that is offensive to the group responsible for that suffering (or who supports the group responsible for that suffering), then by all means call out that person for his offensive remarks – but cut him some slack and get over it. 

The only reason I have spent this much time on the subject is that every month there is a Finkelstein or Blumenthal or Abunimah or Salaita who says something that may strike some Jews as offensive. Instead of rushing to condemn these people, who speak for the victim, perhaps intemperately at times, it would be better to invite them to explain their harsh words.

That was what the President of the University of Illinois should have done at the outset with Prof. Salaita.   Had he been a tenured member of the faculty he would not have been treated in this dismissive manner.  At my university, when professors say something that is considered out of line,  they are given a hearing in the appropriate forum.

That’s what she should still do now. And until she does, the university will suffer the consequences for her insensitivity. 

As for my liberal Zionist friends who have been pummeling Prof. Salaita; may I suggest that they all take a deep breath and keep things in proportion. Reject the tweet, if you like, but try to cut some slack to the tweeter. And invite him to explain his position.

On Offensive Speech and Ethnic Sensitivities -- Part One

“Even if one grants that the University of Illinois acted wrongly in the case of Stephen Salaita, the tweets themselves should be considered deeply offensive, and,  while not overtly anti-Semitic, they conjure up themes and motifs that smack of anti-Semitism. This may not be grounds for dismissal, but it is certainly grounds for condemning the tweets on their own.”

The above is a composite of several reactions to the post below  that I would like to examine. But before I do, consider the following  case, taken from Brian Klug’s essay, Offence: the Jewish Case

At a pro-Palestinian rally  in England, following Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, there was a placard that represented an Israeli flag, only instead of the Star of David there was a swastika (or a Star of David and a swastika with an “equals” sign between them).  Now to a Jew this is deeply offensive, for when a Jew sees the Star of David, he associates it with Jews in general or with Judaism – after all, the Nazis required Jews to wear the yellow star well before there was an Israeli flag.  The placard is taken by many Jews to  imply that the victims are to be identified with the perpetrators, and worse, that Judaism is Nazism.  Even a  placard that explicitly stated that  Israel Defense Forces were acting like German soldiers, as offensive as that might be to many Jews, would be less offensive than one in which the Star of David is identified with, or is replaced by, the swastika. What could be more anti-Semitic than that?

Klug points out that this reaction is understandable given Jewish sensitivities and memories, but it is also possible, and maybe actually the case, that the placard writer didn’t mean any of that, that she just wanted to protest vehemently against  Israeli military actions against innocent civilians, and she used the swastika, a universal symbol of evil often used in other, non-Jewish contexts, such as anti-war protests in the United States.  His point, I think,  is two-fold: that Jews, like other groups, have understandable, and in some cases commendable, sensitivities,  but that in assessing whether something is anti-Semitic or not, the intentions of the author should be taken into account. Even something as prima facie anti-Semitic as defacing a synagogue, though criminal and condemnable, is not necessarily an anti-Semitic ac; it depends in large measure on the intentions of the perpetrator. 

Klug writes of the offending banner:

I was not on marches where placards with this image were displayed…Some of the protesters who stepped out under the aegis of this image are, I am sure, decent human beings whose views about Israel’s actions in Gaza are not very different from my own. I might even agree completely with what they say. But if they asked me to join them under their banner I would have to reply, adapting a phrase that wasn’t Voltaire’s, I approve of what you say, but I wouldn’t be seen dead in your company.

Klug was referring to the marchers. To the placard writer, I would say, “I approve of your condemnation of the massacre of innocents, but, as a Jew, and, frankly, as a decent human being, your rhetoric, no matter what your intent, renders it impossible for me to link arms with you in this procession.”

That’s not the end of the story; two further points should be made. First, offence is subjective, from which follows that not every offence carries the same weight, and indeed some offence may be morally praiseworthy, e.g., offending an Israeli military that has committed war crimes. Second, even when being offended is understandable and even  justifiable,  “getting over it” might be the right thing to do, especially when the one giving offence has historically suffered at the hands of the offender's group, or the group the offended supports.  Much depends on context, not just the context of the offence, but of the offender and the offended.

But more of this in Part Two.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Some Short Takes on the Salaita Affair

Since Corey Robin has done such a fine job of reporting and commenting on the Steven Salaita affair (Prof. Salaita’s job offer was revoked by the President of University of Illinois at Urbana-Campaign after some pro-Israeli donors had complained about some of his tweets that offended them), I have only a few things to add.

1) First, I have yet to see a single person defend the President’s decision who is not pro-Israel.  One would expect that advocates of civility codes would be the first who feel that universities have a right to monitor the social media of professors to see if anything they say or write is deemed offensive to a particular group of students.  Mind you, I am not talking about what they say in the classroom, although I tend to be fairly conservative here in my commitment to freedom of expression.  I am talking about what they say and write outside the classroom.

2) Prof. Steven Plaut at Haifa University denies that there are Palestinians (he places the term in “quotes”) but considers them all to be terrorists!  Does that offend some Palestinian students? I suppose it does. But the offensive claptrap that Plaut writes  is his own damn business – unless it presents an imminent danger to individuals or groups. I realize that this is my American meshugas, that there are hate speech laws in European countries (and in Israel).  But what can you do, I’m an American and believe in those values. That is why I opposed banning Meir Kahane’s Kach party many years ago, and I still oppose banning it today. That is why I opposed banning the vile book Torat ha-Melekh or Hitler’s Mein Kampf.

3) I have no way of assessing Salaita’s quality as a scholar, but two universities have offered him tenured positions based on his teaching, service, and scholarship. So even his critics have to admit that he is admired and respected within his profession (or at least I haven’t heard anything to the contrary). 

4.  Finally, I would like to address the content of what one writer considers Salaita’s “most hateful tweets”, and, as an intellectual exercise, pose the following question to his detractors.

Had Salaita tweeted or blogged the following:

a. By conflating Jewishness and Israel, Israel is partly responsible when their disproportionate attacks on civilians are followed by regrettable anti-Semitic incidents in Europe.

b. If criticizing Israeli treatment of and attitudes towards  Palestinians is anti-Semitic, then insofar as that criticism is justified, and indeed, commendable, so is anti-Semitism.  But of course, criticizing Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians is not anti-Semitic; it is “anti-Semitism” only in the eyes of the Zionists, who conflate Judaism and Zionism.

c. The IDF spokesperson appears to justify violence committed against the Palestinian people, using techniques that are reminiscent of apologists for ethnic cleansing.

would his detractors still have argued that he is unfit to teach at the University of Illinois? No doubt many would. But I agree with much of those sentiments. So why do they go after Salaita and not go after me?

Either because Salaita’s language is more blunt and vulgar than mine, or because he is a Palestinian American, rather than an American Israeli. I have the creds that he lacks, and so I am protected in ways that he isn’t. 

I have the feeling that the latter explanation is more accurate. Being part of a powerful minority, with Jewish and Israeli creds,  has its advantages.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

On Demonizing the Enemy

Do you think that Hamas celebrates death, intends to kill as many Israeli civilians as possible, deliberately fires rockets from populated areas in order to increase Palestinian casualties and to embarrass  Israel on the world stage, and forces Gazan civilians to act as human shields?  Do you think that if they could, they would wipe out every Israeli man, woman, and child, and that it is only Iron Dome and the primitiveness of their rockets that prevents this outcome?  Do you think they built tunnels for this purpose? 

If you do, I don’t know why. You don’t have any credible evidence to warrant these claims.  And yes, I have read the Hamas Charter, and yes, the movement is anti-Semitic.

Here’s two more questions: Are you a liberal who feels bad about the suffering of the Gazans, but who makes a sharp distinction between them and Hamas? Does it make a difference to you that while some Gazans express reservations about Hamas’ fundamentalist ideology, many, perhaps most of them, support Hamas’s resistance against Israel – and I assume  that is also true of most West Bank Palestinians?

Like most insurgent movements with a military wing, Hamas is hardly a paragon of virtue in wartime. There is  considerable evidence that Hamas recklessly endangers the lives of Palestinian citizens by firing indiscriminately rockets and missiles. This constitutes a war crime.  I really can’t see that they actually endanger the lives of Israelis – they certainly frighten them --  but firing rockets into Israel the way they do should be considered a war crime. An occupied people under a brutal siege has a right to armed resistance.  If it were the Jews and not the Palestinians, you would agree.  It may not be prudent for them to exercise that right, but they have it.

People ask, “What is Israel supposed to do when rockets are fired at them?” To them I ask, “How are the Palestinians supposed to fight justly when they can’t get close enough to well-protected IDF  forces to shoot at them?” These are hard questions but whatever their answers, both sides must take maximum reasonable precautions to spare civilians. Once again, both sides didn’t, and both sides committed war crimes, though not of the same magnitude.  I have not yet been entirely convinced that Hamas fought a just war  – although political theorist Anthony Burke makes a persuasive argument for the justice of Hamas’s waging war under international humanitarian law and the laws of war. Their demands for a truce are reasonable, and in most cases, Israel has agreed to these demands in the past.

Now here’s a question for me: if I think that the Palestinians have the right to resort to armed resistance as a last resort, why do I detest Hamas? That’s easy. They are a  religious fundamentalist political party that opposes all my liberal values. I detest all religious fundamentalist political parties. I shudder to think how the Jewish Home party, or better, the Shas party, would fight a war were they to be in control of the Israeli government, and Israel  was under Palestinian occupation for generations, and a decade long-siege. Needless to say I detest Hamas’s  anti-Semitism, just like I detest the anti-Palestinianism and anti-Arabism of the Jewish fundamentalist right.

But just because I detest a political party, that doesn’t mean I have the right to interfere with a democratically-elected government, provided that government is not interfering with my country.  And when they do interfere with my country, I only resort to war as a last resort, after all other resorts fail. In this case, of course, the Palestinians are not a separate independent country, but a people under occupation and siege. 

What I have written makes me a defender of liberal values, not Hamas.  In wartime, those values often get chucked overboard by liberals, especially if they feel a need to rally around the flag.  Demonizing the enemy is as old as warfare.  We shouldn’t do it. Especially when that enemy has been under a brutal occupation for decades.

Monday, August 4, 2014

We Are Romans, Mourning for the Destruction of the Temple

We are Romans, mourning for the destruction of the Temple.

We are Romans, born of a great civilization with a noble destiny.

We rain havoc on Jerusalem and its people.

And blame the Zealots for the deaths and displacement .

“Terrorists.” “Suicide-bombers.” “Haters of all things civilized”

“We wish no harm to the people.”

“We willingly grant them autonomy.”

“The destruction of Jerusalem is the work of the Zealots.”

But the hurban is the work of our hands.

Our hands have shed this blood.

We are Romans, mourning for the destruction of the Temple.


Tisha B’Av, 5774

Friday, August 1, 2014

Zionism 2014: Power Without Agency

Classical Zionism argued that the loss of political sovereignty involved the loss of Jewish political power, and hence the loss of Jewish political agency.  Jewish existence was considered to be ahistorical in the diaspora, and Jews were shuttled from land to land “as a driven leaf.” Classical Zionism called for a “return of the Jewish people into history,” to use Emil Fackenheim’s phrase, and the return of power to Judaism. Jews would be for the first time in two thousand years the masters of their fate, not dependent upon the nations of the world. Jews would have real power, and hence, agency.

So it never ceases to surprise me that supporters of the Jewish state today,  at the zenith of its power and influence, a power the founders of Zionism could never have imagined, actually deny Israel agency in its dealings with non-Jewish groups, especially the Palestinians. These supporters  deny Israel agency in order to avoid  moral accountability for its actions.

For example, it is well known that anti-Semitic activity correlates with  hostile activities directed towards Palestinians. This has been shown in study after study. During the first two years of the Oslo Accords, anti-Semitic activity was at a record low.  Yet when one holds Israeli actions in part responsible for ebb and flow of anti-Semitism (I emphasize, “in part”), many people say that no matter what Israel does, there will still be anti-Semitism; and that Israeli actions merely provide a convenient “excuse” or  “pretext” for  anti-Semitic activity.  Israel has power, but it lacks agency; hence it is not at all responsible.

As of this writing, Israel has wreaked havoc on an entire population, killing over 1400 people, and wiping out whole neighborhoods.  Yet supporters of Israel deny any responsibility on the grounds that Israel is merely reacting to Hamas’s provocation. In other words, Hamas forces Israel, against its will, to kill hundreds of civilians. One would think that Hamas is quite literally holding a gun to Israel’s back, saying, “We will kill you if you don’t kill our people.”  Israelis will say, “What can we do? Our people are under attacks from rockets, We are forced to defend ourselves.”

Power without agency. No agency, no moral accountability.

The most recent attempt to absolve Israel of most of its moral accountability for war crimes is the philosopher and liberal Zionist, Michael Walzer, writing in The New Republic. Walzer has a novel argument; it is not so much only that Israel is forced by Hamas to commit war crimes, but rather it finds itself in the position of power in an asymmetric war, and this is almost a recipe for atrocities against civilians. Israel, or any strong power, can’t help but committing atrocities.

In asymmetric warfare, low-tech forces—call them terrorists, militants, or the more neutral "insurgents," which I will use—aim at the most vulnerable targets, civilians, and they launch their attacks from the midst of the civilian population. The high-tech forces respond, in defense of their own or of allied civilians, and end up killing large numbers of enemy civilians.

Walzer believes that in such circumstances, for the asymmetric war to be waged justly, the powerful party has to assume a certain amount of risk for its soldiers in order to spare the lives of civilians.  He assumes that on the whole, Israel does this, despite bringing no evidence for that view (besides the curious fact that Israel is a “democracy”). He also assumes that Hamas deliberately launches rocket attacks from populated areas in order to inflate the number of civilian casualties from reprisals, despite bringing no evidence for that view either.  Walzer has written about how powerful parties can wage an asymmetric war justly; he has written less, to my knowledge, about the weaker parties. He ends his article as follows:

I would strongly advise anyone contemplating the loss of life in Gaza to think carefully about who is responsible, or primarily responsible, for putting civilians at risk. The high-tech army, for all its claims to precision, is often callous and clumsy. But it is the insurgents who decide that the death of civilians will advance their cause. We should do what we can to ensure that it doesn't.   

Once again, power without agency. So much for moral accountability.

So much for the Jewish return into history.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When Will American Rabbis Go Beyond “Feeling Sympathy” for the Gazans?

As the extent of the brutal and inhuman bombing of Gaza becomes known, it is hard for Jews who consider themselves relatively decent not to speak out.  Some American rabbis are beginning to express sympathy with the innocent victims of the IDF onslaught and to imply, ever so gingerly, that Israel should reconsider what it is doing, from a “Jewish” standpoint.

These expressions of sympathy are inevitably accompanied by expressions of support of Israel, unquestioned faith in the purity of its motives, blind acceptance of the morality of the Israel Defense Forces and the truth of the IDF spokespeople, as well as ritual  condemnation of Hamas.  Even as  we slaughter Gazans and bomb refugee camps into the stone age in ways that the Palestinians never did, and never could do, it is important for our own self-image to imply that we are, deep down,  more moral than they are.  After all, we deliberately and openly arrest Palestinian civilians in reprisals for the murder of our civilians,  whereas the terrorists kidnap soldiers.  We kill civilians and express (occasionally) regret; but when  they fight and kill our soldiers, they aren’t legal combatants of an occupied population under attack but terrorists. We invade; they infiltrate.

I gave up on orthodox rabbis years ago.Their morality is entirely tribal, with the added moral smugness about how we Jews are different from them.  The dean of American modern orthodoxy, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, was simply incapable of understanding why Arabs would oppose Zionism,  and he actually raised the halakhic question of whether those who oppose the Jewish state (“the mobs of Nassar and the Mufti”) should have the law of Amalek applied to them, i.e., to wipe out their men, women, and children. And he was considered one of the more liberal of the modern orthodox rabbis!   One can pity and excuse the Rav for these sentiments – I really like to believe that in cooler moments he would have rejected his own inference -- but no decent human being cannot be revulsed by them.  In Israel, the religious Zionist rabbis range from the enlightened colonialists to the Judaeo-fascists. Moral chauvinism is almost part of the “DNA” of modern orthodoxy; expecting orthodox rabbis to rise above it would be like expecting the Pope to endorse abortion.

So when I read a piece by a well-intended conservative rabbi who believes “that our hearts should grieve, that we should not be able to sleep at night, for the hundreds of Gazan non-combatants who died horrible deaths this week, yesterday, today, and are dying right this minute,” I asked myself: Should I be happy, or at least relieved, that finally, American rabbis have broken their silence? After all, unlike Rabbi David Seth-Kirshner, this rabbi doesn’t adopt the terrorist reasoning behind the Hamas suicide bombers and Osama Bin Laden that makes  civilians into combatants if they elect a government hostile to one’s interests.

No, I should not. For if is the best our rabbinate can do, I can only grieve for American Jewry,  whose hearts have become so hardened that only when there is mass slaughter of innocents and wanton destruction is their sleep disturbed. Where was the rabbi when the people of Gaza were put under a long and callous siege, the calories of their food counted, their movements restricted, solely because they had democratically elected representatives that were not to Israel’s liking? Where was the rabbi when the Israeli government rounded up released Hamas prisoners and government officials on the West Bank who had nothing to do with the murder of the three Jewish students? Where was the rabbi when the ongoing occupation led to the deaths of many Palestinians, at a time when Hamas was “relatively quiet”? My God, the rabbi throws in suicide bombing into the mix? How many thousands of Palestinians civilians have been killed by Israelis, since the last suicide bomb went off, well before Hamas became the recognized government in Gaza? 

It seems to me that the good rabbi, like many other good American Jews sleep peacefully through the moral nightmare of Palestinian existence – in refugee camps, the diaspora, under occupation, and even within Israel. It takes the noise of 120 one-tonne bombs to disturb their sleep. 

How have we Jews gotten to a situation where we can “sleep” so soundly? How have we excused ourselves by saying that Israel is existentially threatened, when, on the contrary,  the only existential threat is Israel for the Palestinian people?

I have yet to read a piece written by a rabbi of any denomination that achieves the moral clarity of Haaretz’s Gideon Levy , Amira Hass, former  M.K. Avraham Burg, and others. These are the Jews  that keep me Jewish during this long, long night of hardened hearts --  along with the rabbinical council of Jewish Voice for Peace, God bless them, and the many Jews and non-Jews fighting for justice and human rights.

In the honor/shame culture that is contemporary Judaism, expressing sympathy for the most egregious victims of our post-Holocaust neuroses, ultra-nationalism, moral chauvinism, and lethal weapons, is apparently the best our rabbinical leadership can come up with.

How moral we Jews are for unanimously condemning the pouring of kerosene down the throat of an innocent Arab youth and burning him alive!

And that is one of the most depressing lessons of these terrible times

Thursday, July 24, 2014

When Palestinians Live Up to Israel’s Moral Example

I was sent today a blog post by a self-described “progressive” rabbi entitled, “I’m Done Apologizing for Israel.” After repeating the standard hasbara talking points  the rabbi concludes, “We must do what we can to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else.”

The rabbi and I are in fundamental agreement about this conclusion. Israelis have the right to protect their own people and are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. But that “anyone else” includes the Palestinian people, and, as a progressive, he surely doesn’t hold that Israelis are more deserving of life and quiet than they are. So the rabbi must hold that the Palestinians have the same right to protect their people, and the same right to self-defense that Israel does. Like Israel, they have the right to wage war, not with primitive rockets, but with tanks, missiles, and fighter jets. The Palestinians have the right to do whatever it takes to provide themselves with the security and pride that the IDF provides Israelis. Furthermore, the Palestinians, like the Israelis, have the right to determine their own destinies and not depend on others to treat their wounded, or to provide them with building materials, or to ration different products, or to restrict their movement in the name of the other’s security. The Palestinians do not have the right to restrict the importation of materials into Israel, to control where Israelis can fish, to blockade Israeli ports, to restrict Israeli movement – unless, like the Israelis, they consider it vital for their security.

Perhaps the rabbi may reply at this point, “Hang on -- in principle, I grant that Palestinians have these rights, but first they have to prove to Israel and to the world that they can run their state in a civilized manner.” In other words, unlike those Israelis who chant “Death to the Arabs,” who pull up chairs and cheer when the IDF drops bombs on Gaza killing overwhelmingly civilians, who call for revenge and bombing Gaza into the stone age, and who justify holding millions of people indefinitely in an open-air prison, in the name of security, in short, who control not only their own lives and destinies, but the lives and destinies of millions of other in a horrendous occupation – the Palestinians must be held to the same moral standard that Israel was held to before it could have a recognized state, an advanced military, and self-determination.

Fair enough. So here is my proposal for the progressive rabbi. Let Israel unilaterally withdraw from all occupied territories and place them for ten years under a UN trusteeship. At the end of those ten years, during which the Palestinians equip themselves with a powerful army, the Palestinians will unilaterally declare a state, and will continue forcefully expelling from its lands those Israeli settlers, whether peaceful or not, who are a perceived threat to its territorial contiguity.  If Israel wishes, it can attack the Palestinian state, but that state will be justified to retaliate, and  if successful, it will be justified, in the name of its security, to seize additional territory, turn millions of Israelis into refugees, bar their return, expropriate their land, place some of them under occupation, and the rest under military rule. Then, when the Israelis under Palestinian occupation elect a political leadership that has a military wing,  the Palestinians can arrest the politicians and place the Israelis under a siege.

Only when Palestinians achieve this moral bar – and it is not an easy bar to attain -- will the Israelis and their supporters be expected to recognize the State of Palestine.

In fact, their recognition of the Palestinians state will be considered a precondition for the recognition of their own state, a demilitarized state that will be established on a fraction of the historical Land of Israel.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Does the Hamas Response to Israel’s Abrogation of the Cease Fire Violate Just War Principles?

The beginning of the current round of hostilities should be dated from Israeli actions in a Gaza tunnel that resulted in the deaths of six Hamas militants. Although Israel denied responsibility, it admitted that it had carried out operations in the area that plausibly led to the incident. This was Monday night, and Hamas retaliated with rockets. A time line can be found here; thus started the current round of hostilities.

If we assume that Israel had a hand, directly or indirectly, in the deaths of the Hamas militants, that would be a serious breach of the cease fire, and, assuming that no other effective recourse was open to it, it would be permissible for Hamas to retaliate militarily, at least according to just-war theory.  It would be hard to argue that just war theory can only apply to state actors, and that Hamas, a “terrorist organization”, is not a state actor – because Israel considers Hamas to be the governing body of Gaza, and hence accords to it some of the responsibilities of a state actor. (This would be different, for example, were Hamas to be operating in the West Bank in areas under Israel’s direct control.)

The only principle I can think of that would counter this is that the Palestinians do not have a right to self-defense. I can’t think of any convincing argument for this.

So having established that the Palestinians in Gaza have a right to self-defense, and hence, to retaliate (jus ad bellum), the question would then turn to the morality of their conduct of military operations (jus in bello) And here they are on much weaker ground, since their conduct consists solely in indiscriminate rocket firing towards civilian targets.

Yet this is where the question gets interesting:  were the Palestinians to have a serious weapons capability, and were they then to fire indiscriminately then it is clear that their conduct of the operations would violate just war principles. The same would certainly be true if Hamas turned to suicide bombing. But, paradoxically, the primitiveness of the rockets, together with the Iron Dome defense, and Israel’s early warning system, has so far guaranteed few if any civilian casualties. True, there is some damage, and certainly there is the inconvenience of having to go to shelters, and the rockets make people anxious, despite the heavy odds against them being hurt. It may be irrational to buy a lottery ticket, given the odds, but people do all the time. Still, the fact that the odds  that a given person will be actually hurt by a Kassam rocket are extremely low, virtually nil, given early warning systems and Iron Dome, plus the Hamas’ militants knowledge of this fact, suggest that if this method of conduct is not just (and I don’t think it is), it is a lot less unjust than the Israeli response, which has claimed to date over a hundred lives, most of whom are civilians.  It is certainly no exaggeration to say that the Israeli public’s suffering does not compare to that of the Gazan people on any metric; the Israelis have a highly effective defense against primitive weapons, whereas the Gazans have no defense at all against highly sophisticated and deadly weapons.

So both sides are committing war crimes, but those of Hamas pales in comparison to those of Israel. And this, of course, without reference to the fact that Israel broke the cease fire. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Latest Gaza Op: Groundhog’s Day? Or Frozen?

The nightmare returns. It starts with Israelis killing Palestinians, Palestinians killing Israelis, whomever.  Israel decides that it “has to” kill Hamas militants. Or it “has to” round up the usual suspects. Eventually, Hamas “has” to retaliate by sending rockets that traumatize the heck out of people but rarely injure anybody.  This annoys the hell out of Israel, which “has to” escalate by killing more militants, often senior ones. Then Hamas really sends barrages of rockets. And at the end of the day – and the night is still young – some Israelis are wounded, on very rare occasions there are fatalities,  and tens, maybe hundreds, of Gazans are killed, many of them civilians, most of them non-combatants. And the destruction in Gaza is horrific.

And the world? Well, the world reports two things: the number of rockets fired against Israel, and the number of casualties on both sides. Nobody cares that that the firepower that  hits in Gaza in a few days  is more deadly and horrific than what falls in Israel in a few years.

And, like the movie Groundhog’s Day, we condemn ourselves to repeat this ritual of death and killing periodically.  Some cynics call it “spring cleaning,” the need  to deplete periodically Hamas stockpile of weapons.  And Hamas “has to” play the game, even though they know they are going to lose, because they have to retaliate, right? I mean, they aren’t exactly a peace movement, and they can’t lose face, can they?  We wouldn’t sit still; why would they?

It is 10:30 in Jerusalem. A siren half an hour ago sent our  two grandchildren, who came to us for safety from Tel Aviv, to the reinforced room. Maybe tomorrow we’ll stay with my daughter in the South.

Netanyahu decided that we have to escalate.  I mean, we have to do something, don’t we? We can’t just sit here!

There is nothing inevitable about this. We didn’t have to kill two innocent Palestinians in May at the Beitunia protest, and then suggest that the video which captured the killing  was faked.  We didn’t have to round up Hamas political leaders and imprison prisoners released in the Shavit swap after the murder of three Jewish students, when we had grounds to believe that they were murdered. When we suspected that two members of a rogue Hebron clan were involved, and Hamas did not take responsibility, we could have kept out of Gaza. We were playing with fire when we thought up ways of undermining the Fatah-Hamas unity government.

So, as usual, we are reaping what our leaders have sowed. Sure, Hamas leaders  bear some responsibility.  But while they are safe underground, the Gazans are suffering and dying. Every hour the numbers of their fatalities will go up, until we decide that too many fatalities will just get another Richard Goldstone involved.

Remember how yesterday the whole Jewish world mourned the death of an innocent Palestinian child? Today, how many of those “mourners” give a damn about the deaths of innocent children in Gaza?

Groundhog’s Day? Or Frozen?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

How Mainstream Israelis Cope with Jewish Terrorists

Moral chauvinism is the view that a certain people is morally superior to another. It’s hard to find peoples or nations that aren’t afflicted with it. I believe that we Jews are especially afflicted with it because, traditionally, we have had to compensate for our lack of political power, and we have had to explain to ourselves why we were the chosen people, despite the fact we were living as a minority under a majority religion.  They were stronger; we were more moral.

Moral chauvinism has taken a beating in Israel the last few days, and here are some of the psychological mechanisms that will enable Israelis to cope with the revelation that Jewish terrorists are (still allegedly) responsible for the murder of Mr. Abu Khedir. 

1.  Shock. “Omigod, there are Jewish terrorists?”  This is a particularly bizarre reaction, since there have been Jews killing innocent Palestinian Arabs throughout the history of Zionism, whether in or out of uniform.  In fact, honor/revenge killings, or other criminal activity, is as Jewish as cholent – or as Arab as humus. Jews are people, and people, especially ignorant and barbaric people, take revenge in this way. Why should Jews be any different?  I hear this reaction every time Jews commit crimes of this sort. Nobody remembers the Jewish Underground. Nobody remembers Ami Popper. Nobody remembers Barukh Goldstein. Nobody remembers the Jewish terrorists before the state. And I am not even talking about the ones in uniform. 

2. Emotional over-reaction. Rabbi Daniel Landes of Pardes Institute wrote in my opinion a particularly wrong-headed post in which he said that Jewish terrorists should be punished the way Palestinian terrorists are punished, by blowing up their family houses, etc. This is supposed to be fair? The fact is that justice is served in neither case. If blowing up a house as retribution/deterrence is wrong – and it is wrong, period – then why blow up anybody’s house, Jew or Arab?

3.  Belittling. We are going to see a lot of this in the coming weeks. “Sure, this was a despicable deed, but we have so few terrorists compared to them.” How many people are going to argue, “Considering we have an army, and a border police, who carry out “retaliatory” actions and collectively punish Arabs under the name of deterrence, the fact that this is not good enough for some of us speaks volumes about who better controls their lust for vengeance, Jews or Arabs.”

4. Sympathy for the families of the terrorists.  I remember this from the 1980s and the Jewish Underground.  In the beginning, the perpetrators were condemned, then money was raised for their families (why should they suffer?) and the criminals’ defense (aren’t they entitled to one?) and little by little, they underwent a rehabilitation, without expressing remorse and regret. That, and presidential pardons, did the trick. Those who were collecting money for the families of Jewish terrorists would never think to do that for the families of Arab terrorists.

5. “Should our sister be made a harlot”? Condemn the perpetrators not for taking revenge, but for taking revenge in the way that revenge was taken.  After all, isn’t Jewish honor a supreme value? (Answer: no.)

There is a pattern in these things that repeats itself: shock, condemnation, outrage, vows of punishment, then as time passes, commuted sentences, pardoned perpetrators, and life goes on. This is particularly true of those murderers who have political clout, such as those in the Jewish Underground of the 1980s. There is noise every time there is a price-tag crime, and occasionally suspects are rounded up. But how many trials and how many convictions, and how many people are actually sent to jail? Only the lone wolves,  without any political lobby,like Ami Popper.

And the most prevalent way of coping:

6. Change the channel to the Mondial.

What is Necessary for a Decent Religious Zionism

In the preceding post I spoke about Israeli religious Zionism today. I did not mean to say that all religious Zionists in Israel adopt the morality of the enlightened colonialist or that of the unenlightened tribalist.  That’s not the case. But sadly,  I cannot think of one Israeli-born and educated rabbi whose moral teachings fall outside that spectrum.  (Readers are invited to send me names, and directions where I can send my donation.)

Religious Zionism wasn’t always like this, and it doesn’t have to be. By “religious Zionism” I mean a Zionism that rests on a Jewish religious world-view. Since there are many “Zionisms” and many “Jewish religious world-views” that’s a very broad definition. “Religious Zionism” more narrowly defined is the belief that Jewish self-determination in the Land of Israel has religious significance, that it is a Divine blessing, or at the very least a positive challenge, and not a curse or a punishment, or neutral. Even this is vague, because religious people will disagree over how God works in history, and how fathomable is his plan.  For some, the state of Israel is the beginning of the final redemption; for others it is the actual redemption; for still others, who are more modest in their claims, it is simply a very good thing for the Jewish people; we should see God’s hand in it, and thank Him accordingly.

I never was a statist religious Zionist. States have no religious significance for me, and although I believe that history is not neutral or indifferent, I am inherently skeptical about identifying God’s working in it.  So I was never even remotely attracted to the notion that the State of Israel was athalta de-geulah, the “beginning of redemption,” and I have always shared Yeshayahu Leibowitz’s characterization of the Gush Emunim/settler movement as a perversion of Judaism.

The more I became educated about the Palestinian Catastrophe, the more I became certain that it is as wrong to look for God’s hand in the establishment of the State of Israel just as it is wrong to look for God’s hand in the  Holocaust.  To attribute a religious meaning to either Shoah or Nakba beyond the admittedly deflationary idea that the response to both should be soul-searching and teshuvah/repentance, is inappropriate at best, sacrilegious at worst.  Of course, one can be happy in one’s lot, and one can be grateful for a Jewish home or homeland, and in that sense, the religious person will want to God to thank for that. If a drunk driver is the only survivor of a car crash for which he is responsible, he may thank God that he lives, even though he has caused the death of others.  But to see his survival as God’s“miracle”? Hardly.

Once I was asked whether I thought that the establishment of the State of Israel was a miracle.  Well, my God doesn’t make miracles that cost innocent people their lives, liberty, and land.  I am not interested in any god that has anything to do with causing the suffering of innocents. Worshipping such a god is idolatrous, in my opinion.  

Religious Zionism did not have to go down that route, and indeed, as I have written before, some of it did not. (See also here.) From the  beginning there were a handful of religious Zionists who were sensitive, sometimes more sensitive than the secularists, to what Zionism was doing to the natives of Palestine. They were educated in Europe, and so perhaps some religious Zionists would say today that they had a galut/exilic mentality. In any event,  they refused to have a Jewish state at the expense of the Palestinian Arabs. And when they were unsuccessful in stopping such a state from arising, they protested the injustices committed in its  name.

What are the necessary conditions for a decent religious Zionism? (I say “decent” rather than “ideal,” lest I be accused of positing an unattainable high standard.)   The first condition is hakaret ha-het, the  recognition that we Jews have sinned, and continue to sin, against the Palestinian people. This is the greatest moral challenge facing the Jewish people today. The second condition is teshuva, returning/repenting, making amends for what have done, and what we do.  For a Zionist, that specifically means, in addition to addressing the needs of the Palestinians today, creating a political framework in the Land of Israel/Palestine that is a decent and fair political framework for all its people. Within that framework some measure of Jewish self-determination can be attained, but not at the expense of Palestinian Arab self-determination, and with neither self-determinations at the expense of the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of all.  This is the attainable goal to which we can aspire, and insofar as one attributes to that goal religious significance, that is what religious Zionism could become, im yirzeh ha-Shem, insha’Allah, if God wills.

That is, if we will it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Religious Zionism and Its Moral Defects

[Update: This post, written out of the pain I felt last week, gave the impression that all religious Zionists range from enlightened colonialists to mafia-morality tribalists.  That’s not true. I happen to know personally several religious Zionists  who are moral exemplars, who recognize our guilt has perpetrators of crimes against the  Palestinian people, and who do what they can to achieve peace and justice. Their voices are barely heard in orthodox Jewish circles and almost never amplified in the press. It may be hyperbolic to say so, but when it comes to religious Zionism as a movement, they are the righteous in Sodom.]

[Second update: the translation of Noam Perel’s statement has been changed; h/t to Shunra for pushing me on this, though I still claim there is a double entendre, for which, see Comments.]

It’s time to say this out loud: the most morally distasteful form of Judaism today is Israeli religious Zionism. I am not just referring to the ultra-nationalist religious Zionist rabbis and their minions, who claim religious authority for their mafia morality. These are the  garden-variety racist/bigots  common to all ultra-nationalist religious fundamentalisms. I am not even referring to somebody like Noam Perel, the General Secretary of World Bnei Akiva, the main religious zionist youth group, who wrote on his Facebook status earlier today:

An entire people and thousands of years of history demand vengeance. The government of Israel has convened a meeting of vengeance, which is not a meeting of mourning. The landlord (master of the house) has gone crazy at the sight of his sons’ bodies, a government that will convert its army to an army of vengeance, a soldier that will not be stopped at the “line of 300”  [kav 300] Philistine foreskins, through the blood of the enemy the disgrace will be atoned, not through our tears.

The operative term here is not only “vengeance” but disgrace, the disgrace that the superior  feels when he is successfully wounded by an inferior.   Like the hate-filled whites in the segregated US south, Israelis of this sort feel humiliated and violated by any Palestinians with any power. How dare these pishers murder our boys?

And when the negative reactions came in to Perel’s inflamed rhetoric, and they did, he was quick to clarify that he wanted the government and the army to take vengeance, for the sake of deterrence, as it had done in earlier cases of reprisal raids. In other words, killing and terrorizing civilians in the name of Jewish honor  (a.k.a. ‘establishing deterrence’)  should be left to the state and its army, and not to private initiative.

Whew, now that makes me feel a lot better!

It’s easy to go after somebody crippled by religious Zionist education like Noam Perel, who represents the mainstream.  But my argument is also with “liberals” like Rabbi Benny Lau in his  response to Perel. Let me first say that I agree with Rabbi Benny on many things, and that when it comes to religious Zionist rabbis,  I think that he is the best of the lot. (Full disclosure: I attend his synagogue.)

Lau criticizes Perel for running away with his emotions, for reacting with the anger of a fifteen-year old (By the way, my fifteen year old children never reacted that way). Here are some excerpts of Lau’s response to Perel, interspersed with my comments. After Lau strongly condemns the call for revenge, he  writes,

“We pray that God will take vengeance of our enemies, but do we want the character traits of our enemies?”

Commentary:  Arabs seek vengeance because it is in their nature. 

“We have a state, an army, a defense establishment, and prayer.”

Commentary:  God forbid the other side should have the dignity of having a state, an army and a defense establishment.  After all, they don’t have the same rights to self-defense that we do.

“We tell our students the words of Golda Meir, who said that she will not forgive our enemies  who cause us to raise generation after generation of soldiers. We turn to God with our appeal because we become people who fight not according to our nature.”

Commentary: Jews are by nature peace-loving; it’s only because the Arabs want to drive us into the sea that we have an army. It’s not because of national pride, or because of the peer pressure of eighteen-year olds,  or because a Jewish state should have a Jewish army.  We are most unwilling soldiers.

“Do we want to anoint for ourselves a culture that is completely evil? That is foreign to what we represent.”

Note there is no call for empathy for all victims, not to mention empathy with the natural desire for all people to live a life of dignity, free from humiliation.  Note that by definition, it’s the Other, not the Jew, who has all the negative traits.  If Rabbi Lau was not suggesting that Arab culture is a culture of evil, why doesn’t he take the opportunity to make that clear?

“To call for the authorities not to make concessions when a citizen is harmed is justified, but between this and the call for vengeance there is a deep gap.”

Commentary: What concession is the rabbi referring to? Blowing up the homes of the alleged assailments, collective punishment for the families of the innocent-until-proven-guilty suspects?

In Rabbi Lau’s statements above, substitute “Christian” or “Englishman” for “Jew” or “we”, and substitute “African” or “Indian” for “our enemies”, and you have your garden-variety colonialist morality of the Age of Empire.  To be sure, the practical consequences or Rabbi Benny’s rebuke are much better than those of Perel. The abhorrent theological belief  that God is a vengeful God (Maimonides allegorized the verses away) may help to restrain the passion that all humans qua humans feel. And restraining passions is a good thing in these instances.

But moral chauvinism and feelings of Jewish superiority simply ooze from the rabbi’s words.  And if that’s the best religious Zionism has to offer – and it is – well, no, thanks. I grew up hearing my Christian friends rebuke their fellow Christians by saying, “True Christians don’t do those sorts of things.”

Well, guess what? They do, and did. And so do Jews, who are no different from all other folks, neither better nor worse.

Except that here, in Israel/Palestine, we Jews have virtually all the power.  And we use it, all the time whining about Jewish honor, as if we were cowering before the nobleman and his dog.

Friday, June 27, 2014

The Case for a BDS Coalition

There is a rule in movement politics: Your greatest rival is the one closest to you ideologically.

Supporters of the global BDS movement, the movement that arose as a response to the three calls of the Palestinian civil society organizations, are at best wary, and more likely,  dismissive, of progressive Zionists who support this or that boycott, divestment, or sanction measure against the continuing Occupation. Critics rightly note that these progressive Zionists are willing to settle for a “two-state” solution that doesn’t begin to do justice to the three divided constituencies of Palestinians: those under a brutal 67 occupation, those “citizen strangers” of Israel, and those exiled from their homeland.  Moreover, many of the supporters of the global BDS movement would oppose a Jewish hegemonic state anywhere on the planet, indeed, or even if it were located on some unoccupied territory of the Moon, simply because it is foundationally discriminatory against another group based on religio-ethnicity.

So why should the supporters of the global BDS movement pay much attention, much less give legitimacy, to what Peter Beinart has called, “Zionist BDS”?  Why should there be an unofficial coalition between these two groups? After all, insofar as Zionist BDS succeeds, so does a Jewish hegemonic state, one that excludes Palestinian refugees,  discriminates against non-Jews (and non-orthodox Jews in matters of personal status), and dominates a collection of Bantustans called “(New?) Palestine”.

Here’s why:

First, any call for boycott, divestment, or sanctions, for whatever motive (even on behalf of the settlers!) is seen, rightly, as a blow against the legitimacy of Israel. Progressive Zionists can protest until they are blue in the face; they can argue that they are acting out of the most statist-Zionist of motives; they can point to polls of Israelis who favor ending the Occupation – little of this matters. Even if their boycotting appears to some to be no more than a “liberal chic” tokenism that allows them to sleep better at night,  it will be rightly perceived by the pro-Israel crowd as  a threat, even an “existential one,” to use Prime Minister Netanyahu’s characterization of all  BDS.

Second, any call for boycott, divestment, or sanctions, however limited, is enhanced when those making the call present themselves as supporters of the boycott’s target.  An alcoholic who abuses someone should be turned into the police -- but when the person making the call is his brother, that makes a huge statement of the limits of familial loyalty.   I believe that when the history of the BDS movement is written, Peter Beinart’s call for “Zionist BDS” in the New York Times will deserve more than a footnote. I personally agree much more with Omar Barghouti’s Times op-ed. But “Zionist BDS” was written by  a former editor of the New Republic, a supporter of the second Iraq war, and a Zionist who attends an orthodox Jewish synagogue. “Zionist BDS” made a splash, and people who had not heard of BDS, and if they did, had associated it with Forces of Evil, heard for the first time “one of their own”  use the phrase “BDS” in a positive manner.

Third, the goal of the BDS movement, at least in my eyes, is not to punish the State of Israel. We are not talking about  retributive justice for the sake of justice, much less revenge for the sake of revenge.  The goal of the BDS movement is to get Israel to obey human rights protocols and human rights law, with respect to all sectors of the Palestinian people.  I daresay that the global BDS movement is not even a pro-Palestinian movement, except in the sense that the people whose fundamental rights are violated upon happen to be Palestinians. It is in its essence a human rights movement.

Fourth, the goals of BDS will not be achieved until a critical mass of Israelis, or at least their leaders, realize the unsustainability of the status quo.  This is one of many lessons from South Africa.  And what will enable that realization is being educated by people whom they consider trustworthy.

So what does this mean in practice? Minimally, the public disagreement between the sides should be respectful, but not blurred, with neither side dissing the other.  Both sides should wage a common fight against the brutal Occupation.  Since I don’t believe the Occupation is ending anytime soon, this will allow both sides to forge relationships that will lead to much more than a tactical alliance.  The pro-Palestinian side  will come to grips with the fact that there are over six million Jews living in Palestine; the pro-Israeli side will come to grips with the fact that Jewish hegemony cannot be morally sustained in an ethnic exclusivist state. Many on both sides have done so already.

Let there be a joint struggle, or, perhaps more realistically, an alliance of overlapping moral interests.  This is not normalization or endless dialogue; this is good old fashioned  coalition politics. There may very well come a stage when the assistance of the progressive Zionist crowd is not helpful or even welcome, when the Palestinian side has achieved enough strength and recognition to press on its own. (Cf.  whites and blacks in the US civil rights movement). There certainly will come a time when progressive Zionists have to choose between their contradictory values, and many are already making that choice.

As for the global BDS movement, there are rightly saluting the recent decision of the Presbyterian church in the US to divest from companies profiting from the occupation, despite the fact that the resolution explicitly reaffirms Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign state and affirms the two-state solution, and takes no stand on the right to return but rather calls for justice for Palestinian refugees.

What comes next? The great Moses Maimonides/Ben Maimon/Ibn Maymun says in his Code of Law that one has a duty to rebuke his neighbor when the latter commits a wrongdoing. When it comes to interpersonal matters,  that rebuke should be done privately, taking care not to shame the wrongdoer. But in “matters concerning Heaven,” if the private rebuke isn’t effective,  the wrongdoer “is put to shame in public and his sin is publicized. He is subject to abuse, scorn, and curses until he repents, as was the practice of all the prophets of Israel.” (Laws Concerning Ethical Dispositions 6:8.)

The global BDS movement doesn’t call for the elimination of Israel, much less its destruction. It calls for Israel to “repent” by recognizing the rights of Palestinians enshrined in international law and conventions. Progressive Zionists will disagree, no doubt, on what Israel’s wrongdoing consists in.But it is time for “public shame, abuse, scorn and curses,” not as a punishment, or as revenge, but in the goal of human rights.

For if the plight of the Palestinians is not a “matter concerning heaven,” I don’t know what is.

Monday, June 23, 2014

My Response to U Wash Progressive Zionists

Dear Shahar and Ruth,

Thank you for answering my call to respond.

We clearly disagree over principles and tactics. On principles, I have maintained consistently for some time that the fundamental question is not what sort of political arrangement is best for the peoples of Israel/Palestine, although clearly that is a very important question. The fundamental question is how best to guarantee life, liberty, and the flourishing of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples in whatever framework that emerges,  two states, federation, one state, etc.  I have no a priori commitment to any particular state or configuration of states.

I wonder whether progressive Zionists are really pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian (as J Street U says). If they were, they would not consistently favor Israel’s security over Palestine’s security; they would support two-state proposals that empower Palestinian (more territory, end of settlement blocs, control of resources, a strong defense force, etc.) Instead, what they seem to be concerned with primarily is the flourishing of the Zionist state in such a way as not to hurt others, like the Palestinians.  They have genuine sympathy for the Palestinians, and they don’t want Israel to control Palestinian destiny. But when push comes to shove, it seems to me that their motivation (whether they realize it or not) is first what’s best for the Jewish state, and second what’s the best deal they can get for the Palestinians, given their unshaken  commitment to the Jewish state.

You state honestly in your response that you oppose the aim of the global BDS movement that calls for civil equality for Israeli Jewish and Arab citizens – presumably, because that would in some way threaten the Jewishness of the Jewish state. You seem to be willing, in principle, to support a state that creates a class of citizens who are excluded from the nation represented by that state. You bear no ill will to those citizen-aliens, and I am sure you would be happy to see their lot improved. But equality is out of the question because the state has to be Jewish in the sense that Israel today is Jewish. For the same reason, you presumably agree with the majority of Israelis who believe that Israel is a state of the Jewish people and not of the Israeli people. Here, too, we disagree.

All that said, there is an issue that is more pressing than the political and ideological ones, and that is the end of a brutal, immoral Occupation that screams to heaven daily.  And here we also disagree, if not over the principle of ending the Occupation, then over its urgency.  Many liberal Zionists are deeply upset over the Occupation, but appear not to feel any real urgency about it.  You, for example, will not support a limited divestment resolution with with you  agree, because in its preamble, mention is made of the global BDS movement, and there are members of that movement, and supporters of the resolution, who want to replace the State of Israel with a democratic state of all its citizens. Until a divestment resolution comes along that is entirely detached from the global BDS movement, you will stand with more conservative groups like Standwithus -- not because you  agree with Standwithus – you clearly don’t – but because at the end of the day, on a vote that does not allow for nuance or middle ground, you vote with those who don’t recognize that there is an occupation, much less an immoral one.

I fully understand and respect the desire to stand on principle. I also understand the predicament of standing with groups with whom one does not agree. It’s not the progressive Zionist’s fault that on this issue they are caught in the middle. 

But there are several options for progressive Zionists on campus faced with the situation that you were faced with: The first is to negotiate over a divestment resolution that focuses entirely on the Occupation,  that it is not explicitly linked to the global BDS movement. When that fails, the second is to offer one’s own divestment resolution and ask others to join on one’s own terms. And when that fails, the third option is simply to abstain on the grounds that opposing the resolution will be rightly interpreted as a victory for Israel and the current government.

This, of course, brings us to the question of tactics. As ineffective as the global BDS movement has been to end the occupation, J Street’s “middle way” has done even less.  J Street U’s have been instrumental in bringing the ugly face of the Occupation to campuses, and that is indeed praiseworthy. I should have been more charitable in my initial post about that.

But acting on principle carries with it consequences, and in this case, the consequences were clear – a defeat for the Palestinians and their supporters.

Surely you are not happy about that.

Professive Zionists at U Wash Respond

With summer break upon us, I hope to post more. 

At the end of my previous post, criticizing supporters of J Street U at U Wash for voting down a divestment resolution, I asked for their response.  I received one yesterday from U Wash students Shahar Golan and Ruth Ferguson, and I am printing it below, as I received it.  I will comment on it in a separate post.

Dear Mr. Haber,

This is Ruth Ferguson and Shahar Golan. We are the two students who are building a J Street U chapter at the University of Washington. We always appreciate hearing opposition to our personal views. It is always important for us to hear critique and challenge our own opinions.

With that said, we’d like to clear a few things up. Firstly, the foundation on which this article supports itself is mistaken. There is no J Street U chapter at UW. We are J Street supporters and plan to bring a chapter to UW in the fall, but for the time being we are free agents and merely students who opposed the UW divestment resolution. In fact, if you had heard either of our public speeches during the student senate hearing, you would have heard no ties made back to J Street. We only raise this point in clarification because it should be noted we acted on behalf of ourselves, not on behalf or representative of any organization, despite misleading media reports to the contrary.

The beginning of your post spoke about when J Street had “gone outside of the family” in the past and received a “crack of the communal whip” which brought it back to conformity in the tribe. One can only assume that you were appropriating this same conformity onto us in this statement based on the rest of your post.

Interestingly, in our statements in opposition to the divestment bill, we condemned human rights violations carried out by the Israeli government, criticized the occupation of the West Bank, and acknowledged the catastrophe of Palestinian suffering at the hands of a movement with which we identify strongly. We didn’t mention all of these issues, or ultimately oppose the resolution, because of concern about communal condemnation. In fact, we fully expected condemnation. And that is fine by us.

While you missed our speeches, StandWithUs did not, and they tweeted their disgust and disdain for our opposition to the occupation. Let us explain why we personally took a stance.

As many have noted, BDS is a set of tactics. Nothing is inherently good or bad about them. The question for us is “to what end?” Why are we utilizing these tactics?

Towards what ultimate goal?

We believe in a two-state solution that recognizes the rights of both Palestinians and Jews to self-determination and lives of dignity. We support efforts that we believe lead us towards that objective, and object to efforts which we believe lead us away from that objective. With that in mind, we were opposed to the divestment resolution at our school for several reasons.

First, although the divestment was specifically targeted at certain companies involved in the occupation of the West Bank, it was explicitly stated to be a part of the “Global BDS Movement.” The three demands of the global BDS movement were stated explicitly in resolution 20-39 presented at UW, including:

1. Ending its (Israel’s) occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the wall

2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and

3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194

As these demands are incompatible with the two-state solution we seek, we objected to the explicitly stated goals of the resolution as part of the broader Global BDS campaign.

Second, while we seriously oppose the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, we were worried by the specific resolution at UW, and the Global BDS Movement’s lack of clarification regarding their interpretation of the term “occupied territories”. Some groups and individuals view Israel within the 1967 borders as an occupation of Arab land, an opinion that we wholeheartedly reject.

Finally, it was unclear to us what the ultimate goal of the resolution was and whether the resolution was intended to support an end to the occupation through two-states or another framework we do not support. As the sponsoring student group, SUPER, does not endorse either a one-state or two-state solution, we felt it unwise to support a tactic without clarity on the intention of the tactic.

You constantly accused us of guilt by association with the establishment pro-Israel groups. It is no secret that we hold different views than most supporters of groups like StandWithUs. While there is sometimes overlap in goals around particular issues, like some BDS efforts, it is quite clear that while some groups are apologists for the occupation, we are not. Our work includes challenging them and exposing them for what they are. This cannot and should not preclude us from working together, as it should not preclude us from working together with Palestinian solidarity groups. Further, your appreciation of the BDS movement's mass appeal (to one and two-staters), as well as your call for us to link “arms with over fifty Palestinian civil society organizations on this one point, despite its (J Street) disagreements with them on other points”, shows a double standard you apply to those you disagree with. You praise groups and individuals that overlook their disagreements to cooperate for the BDS cause, yet you attack us for doing the same and joining Huskies Against Divestment.

We are always open to criticism, and enjoy challenging our views. We encourage you to attend J Street U events (we are not sure if you have in the past) in the upcoming school year to hear our message first hand. We felt that your thoughts regarding J Street U at UW (which does not yet exist) rested on a lack of research on the actual occurrences at the UW. We respect your opinion regarding the BDS movement, although it differs from ours, and appreciate you posting our response.


Shahar and Ruth